by Patrick Williams
Leading up to the release of Iggy Pop’s March 18 effort, Post Pop Depression, his album collaborator, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, told The Guardian that after the recent deaths of David Bowie and Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, Pop, 68, is “the last of the one-and-onlys.” It’s true in a pop culture sense, due to Pop’s creation of a culture based on sexual fervor, physical fitness and raw power. However, his major lack of significant releases between the Bowie-co-written and Bowie-produced The Idiot (1976) and the Homme-co-written and Homme-produced Post Pop Depression, illustrates how he has, for decades, served better as a collaborator than as a leader. If Homme tracked his voice even slightly more present in the mix—over what are largely his compositions anyway—we’d be looking at an “Iggy Pop and Josh Homme” album.
For the record, Pop and Homme brought in QOTSA multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita and Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders. In the last few years, the two bands have been moving stylistically toward the mainstream, as well as toward each other’s sound. Pop’s role here as frontman doesn’t pan out very well in that context. The band’s dense instrumentation and backup vocals on “Sunday” vie for attention more than his vocals. The very QOTSA “German Days” has a similar effect, albeit everything about it is far more forgetful to begin with.
The official YouTube video for album opener “Break Into Your Heart” contains a picture of Pop and Homme clenching each other’s hands, and Homme towering above Pop. The picture perfectly sums up the essence of the song: the two artists drawing out the same melodies in different intonations—Pop with bellowing, Bowie-inspired vocals and Homme with arena-ready guitar. The king of desert rock fails to defy any expectations laid before him, but matches those expectations well enough to distract from the godfather of punk’s wavering voice. The musicians build the song, just for Pop to bark the rudimentary lyrics, “Break them all / Take them all / Fake them all.”
There’s not a song on Post Pop Depression that’s unlistenable. (The closest thing that comes to it is “Vulture,” on which Pop picks acoustic guitar and passively sings, “He’ll jump your bandwagon / ‘Til it’s your corpse he’s draggin.’ ”) The biggest issue with this album is in the the false narratives that it perpetuates. For instance, on the closer, “Paraguay,” Pop teases the idea of retiring and moving to the South American country, where he’d be free from critics and eat tamales. In a case of pure situational irony, he sings lyrics like, “There’s nothing awesome here / Not a damn thing / There’s nothing new,” over what could easily be mistaken as a QOTSA throwaway track from the early 2000s. On “Gardenia,” he gives himself the title, “America’s greatest living poet,” from which he’s clearly a far cry.
The aptly titled Post Pop Depression does convey a strong message, of an aging musician coming to grips with loneliness and the impact he’s made on millions of lives. “American Valhalla” stands out for its brashness: “Is anybody in there? / And can I bring a friend? / I’m not the man with everything / I’ve nothing but my name.” On that gem and the song before it, the single “Gardenia,” Pop proves persistent in sharing his perspective. On the latter, he quintessentially ties in sex with longing, and it works well. He sings, “The streets were your home / Now where do you roam?” followed by, “Your hourglass ass / And your powerful back / Your slant devil eyes / And the ditch down your spine.” The guitar melody again echoes Pop, as Pop again echoes Bowie. But because of Pop’s integrity, and Homme’s intriguing deviations from the song’s structure, it makes for a fine single.
The creative potential from these recording sessions comes across best in the form of “Chocolate Drops.” The queasy-inducing chorus, “When you get to the bottom, you’re near the top / The shit turns into chocolate drops,” contains the foul and primitive insight that’s key to Pop’s style. Homme and the band’s low-key demeanor gives Pop the space to clearly express himself. At one point, Pop sings the lyrics, “So fly,” accenting the words to make the phrase sound like a command. The band then repeats the lyrics, but accenting them to make them sound like a description of style, using “fly” as a slang adjective. That level of specificity just hints at what could have been a much stronger partnership.